Over this past weekend, a dear mama friend reached out to me and asked if me or any of her mama friends ever had to leave a stable full time job and go solo with our own business. I can totally relate to her hesitation and nervousness about leaving a steady job to start your own business. Taking that leap is absolutely terrifying. It’s like taking a trust fall and having no idea if anyone is standing beneath you to catch you.
My Post Partum Going Back to Work Experience
Pumping at work
Leaving my baby to go back to work
Becoming a full time photographer
I wanted to share with her and with you what my post partum going back to work experience was with my boss, with pumping at work, with leaving my barely 3 month old with my mom and mother in law, and how because of my experiences and personal journey, I became a full time photographer.
When I was pregnant with my first child Kate, (she is almost 6 years old now), my plan was to always go back to work after she was born. Although I’ve been a photographer for nearly 11 years, for the first 5 years of my photography career, I only photographed clients on the weekends (and sometimes during the week depending on if there was still light out when I got out of my office job). During the week I was a glorified secretary (my official title was Office Manager), and I was working at a dead-end job at a Graphics/Computer Engineering Company in Boca Raton, with nowhere up to go. I had many jobs exactly like this one over a decade leading up to this one. It was the kind of job you have to pay your bills, and live pay check to pay check, but it was in no way a career. On top of it, I had the worst boss. A total sexist individual with absolutely the worst “bedside manner” — who paid no attention to his employees being human beings who needed to be treated with respect and positive reinforcement in order for our team to be strong — so they had a high turnover rate. So I was his assistant and the office secretary in this office. I did my job very well, but I was absolutely miserable. Almost everyday I left work either crying or angry. But it did pay the bills and I was grateful to have a job.
When I was in my 3rd trimester my boss tasked me to find a temporary hire to fill in for me during my maternity leave. I found an excellent employee who I trained to fill in for me, and I worked every single day up until the day I was induced.
In my last week of work my boss proposed an offer to me that really caught me off guard for several reasons:
He told me if I came back to work within the first few weeks of the first months following my birth, he’d give me a bonus of $3,000.
If I came back during the second month, he’d give me a bonus of $2,000.
If I came back within the last 4 weeks of my 3rd month, he’d give me a bonus of $1,000.
These were his incentives to get me back to work immediately.
He used his wife as example and role model for me with how she was back on her feet at work within just a couple of weeks of giving birth to her first child.
This offer really conflicted me. On the one hand, we could really use this money. My salary was laughable, and my husband had just started a new job not too long ago, so this money could really help to pay off our student loan debt, pay for the basic necessities of having a baby since we were doing this for the first time, and many more bills and living expenses.
But on the other hand, I was conflicted about accepting this offer. From what I had heard about giving birth, a woman doesn’t even stop bleeding until 6 weeks post partum. I wondered how I could possibly go back to work while my uterus and body was still recovering from giving birth? I also wondered how I would ever be able to leave my tiny baby with someone at home, forget about her while I was at work for 8 hours (plus commute time). I wondered how it would work with milk production. I was so conflicted and so confused about what to do.
But shortly after, I was being induced, and most of these questions were solved for me.
The Reality of Motherhood for Me
I had a c-section and the recovery was a nightmare.
It was like being hit by a truck. For the first week, I needed help from my husband to get out of bed to pee. The walk from bed to the bathroom took 15 minutes. For a few weeks after that, I still needed to go very slowly and very carefully out of bed for my incision site where the c/section had been performed to not hurt excruciatingly.
Other Challenges in the First Few Weeks Following Birth
On top of it, I was still recovering from being sick. I came down with a cold 3 weeks before I was induced, and because of being pregnant, my immune system was weakened, and I was still sick.
On top of all this, breastfeeding had not at all been the walk in the park I thought it would be. I thought it was this natural process that was beautiful and god-given, but as it turned out, my daughter’s latch was absolutely horrible, if you’ve ever talked to a lactation consultant, they’ll tell you a bad latch could produce a ‘lipstick tip’ looking nipple, which in retrospect I had every time I unlatched her. I found out after 27 years of my life that I had what LCs call inverted nipples. I had to learn and become well acquainted with a double electric breastfeeding pump, nipple shields, lanolin, airing my nipples, constantly leaking with breastmilk all over my entire life.
AND TO TOP OFF ALL OF THIS — I was blessed with a very high needs baby girl. Name the most common newborn problems, this little lady had them.
She had colic, jaundice, severe diaper rashes, was impossible to burp, cried every single night from 6pm to midnight for 3 months without fail and impossible to soothe, wouldn’t ever take a pacifier, nursed constantly and for super long 45 minute stretches, one minute was super constipated another minute had back to back blow out diapers. 15 loads of laundry a day. Then I got clogged ducts (which feel like marbles in your breasts — OUCH!) She wouldn’t ever nap alone in a bassinet, crib or otherwise, she always had to be on me — velcro baby 24/7
I quickly learned that after being a super independent human being for 27 years, having to be attached to a human being who is painfully latched to your nipples all day and all night, never sleeps, never stops crying, pooping, projectile vomiting, while on top of it you are healing from excruciating c/section surgery, I had a massive learning curve to master, I experienced huge “culture shock” and I plummeted straight into the steep slide of post partum depression.
Not to mention, my poor baby girl came down with a cold when she was barely three months old, which quickly accelerated and worsened, and the pediatrician we were with at the time continued to tell us to “wait and see” as there were not recommendations for medicating a sick barely 3 month old. (Long story short, two pediatricians later, frustrated parents who were getting no help and no answers, ended up in the emergency clinic where my daughter was diagnosed with pneumonia).
Forget About Money
But going back to when my baby girl was barely 3 months old, at this point I was neck-deep in post partum anxiety, post partum depression, and barely navigating through mothering a brand new baby as a first time inexperienced mom. It was in this state that I finally returned to work.
As you have already gathered, my boss’s tiered bonus incentive offers went out the window, I completely forgot about them once my baby was born.
What Motherhood Meant to Me
Because motherhood, and the 4th trimester as I discovered is not some kind of bargaining chip or negotiation.
Motherhood, especially for first time moms, especially for moms who undergo a difficult recovery whether from a vaginal or c-section birth, especially for moms who are blessed with a hyper, irritable fussy baby, these women are NOT thinking about MONEY and getting back to work immediately. They are in survival mode, thinking about how to stay afloat, while at the same time, as crazy and counterintuitive as it may sound to non-parents — we are also hopelessly falling madly in love with our new baby and not wanting to spend a single minute apart from them regardless of how absolutely unpleasant and traumatic my 4th trimester has thus far sounded to you — because I instantly felt a huge maternal bond to my baby (I know and honor the women who did not, because that is all too common as well and I see you mamas, I see you and I honor you) and the last thing I wanted to do was to put the pause button on all this 4th trimester rollercoaster baby-mooning and say “yes sir, I want to come back to work and work my ass off while you treat me like crap).
The First Weeks Back at Work
I eventually did go back to work at the 12 week mark, and my first day leaving my baby was an absolutely nightmare for me. I cannot even describe the deep level of psychological and emotional pain I felt leaving my first baby at home and going to work. My innate maternal instincts told me to not leave her. And the severe anxiety, crying and depression that leaving her caused me was devastating. This separation did me no favors to the post partum anxiety and post partum depression I was already juggling.
The immediate nightmare I was faced with when I started my first week of work was that my boss gave me a very hard time about pumping. He compared everything to his wife and told me that he didn’t understand the need for me to pump at the office — his wife had supplemented the baby with formula while she was at work so why couldn’t I.
Florida Maternity Leave Law
It was a small business under 20 employees so there really weren’t any Florida business laws he had to worry about violating. He kept pushing me to pump before or after work because he did not want to allow me 15 minute breaks to pump during my work day. He did not want me pumping in the office and the building had no dedicated rooms so he pushed me to pump in the bathroom. I never pumped in the bathroom. I felt this was a disgraceful violation of human rights.
Finally I was given a spot on the floor behind a door, with male employees constantly walking in on me. I was told very clearly I had to record the times during which I pumped and I would be docked this money for using the time for personal reasons.
After just a couple of months of a very loose version of the term “part time hours” my boss fired me. He told me that they had a lack of work at the company and they had no need for two office managers.
I can’t believe that I actually had a screenshot of getting fired from April 26, 2013 and the person delivering the message? The employee I recruited to fill in my position…
Oh yes, I forgot to mention that the temporary employee I recruited to fill in for me during maternity leave assumed a full time permanent position — my job.
I almost maybe sensed this coming. But naively I didn’t want to admit it.
I suddenly found myself as a stay at home mom and our family was being sustained by one entry-level income from my husband’s job.
We cut down every expense we possibly could and even had only 1 car for almost a year.
6 Months Post Partum
The time when my 4th trimester really ended
When my baby turned 6 months old, that was really when I started feeling more like myself again. We finally connected with an amazing pediatrician who saved her life from the terrifying encounter with pneumonia after two pediatric practices completely disregarded my plea for help, (the amazing Dr. Edna Tello of Personalized Pediatrics), my baby started growing out of colic and the witching hour vanished, my breasts finally stopped leaking constantly as my milk supply evened out, I started feeling like my post partum depression started to fade and I felt more motivated to start photographing again, and so I started taking the first real professional pictures of my daughter.
Finally Leaving the House and Making Friends
This was also the first time that I started leaving the house with her — just me and my daughter. We had that entire traumatizing experience with my baby and two incompetent pediatric practices and my daughter having pneumonia and so between that and my post partum healing both physical and psychological, the very first time I ever took my daughter solo to the park and met other moms and children wasn’t until she was almost 8 months old.
But this is the profound moment of my life (that I had not clue about at the time) when the foundation of my career as a birth photographer was being started
Shortly after I became very immersed in the local mommy community.
I started taking pictures of friends and other moms in the community on the weekends and in the evenings when my husband would come home from work and stayed with our daughter. And sometimes, I’d bring her with me while I wore her in a carrier while I took pictures of friends and their children.
Call to Action
I found through hearing other mothers breastfeeding journeys, challenges and struggles that I was compelled to fight for them using my pictures.
That’s where my advocacy in my work was founded.
But it was not an easy journey. I was terrified of restructuring my photography business around breastfeeding photography.
I thought I’d lose all 400 followers — well I did.
I lost all 400 of my facebook followers who had no desire to see pictures of mothers breastfeeding their children.
But in the place of the 400 followers I lost, I gained 2,000 new followers — all new mothers who believed in my goals, in my mission, in the power of community and empowering mothers.
But it was still terrifying even then.
Losing a Steady Income is Frightening
I was terrified that I lost my steady income when my office job let me go. I felt like we were going to lose our home and end up begging on our knees for my parents to take us into their home.
But I went with the flow of the ocean.
I closed my eyes and went with the flow of the waves.
My life led me away from a steady income job, to home where I was able to be a stay at home mom for my daughter when she needed me most, and then when I saw that my heart grew a deep passion for education and motherhood, I took a leap of faith doing rather controversial at the time Photography, and 4 years later, I am the head of household financially and we can afford to have both of our children in full time preschool (that my dear doula friend Lisa Raynor encouraged me to do)
We are basically working for our kids to be in preschool, but I have never been more empowered by my role in our family, in my community, among other women. I hope this gives mothers a little bit of hope. I took a huge leap of faith, and put 110% of my passion into it.